« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
wishes it were possible to say of them that they are as readable as history.
Nevertheless it is quite true that the virtues supposed to inhere chiefly in a work of fiction are conspicuous in this the first of Parkman's historical studies. The Conspiracy of Pontiac is a story, filled with incident and abounding in illustrations of courage, craft, endurance, stubbornness, self-sacrifice, despair, triumph. The plain truth shames invention. Pontiac lives in these pages describing his towering ambition. So do the other actors, Rogers, Gladwyn, Campbell, Catharine the Ojibwa girl. The supernumeraries are strikingly picturesque, -Canadian settlers, trappers, coureurs des bois, priests, half-breeds, and Indians, the motley denizens of frontier and wilderness. A forest drama played by actors like these is bound to be absorbing were it only as a spectacle.
One fact becomes apparent on taking up this book. History as Parkman writes it is both dramatic and graphical, filled with action and movement, filled with color, form, and beauty. With such an eye for effect it is impossible for him to be dull. Open the volume at random and the wealth of the author's observations seems to have been showered on that page. But the next page is like it, and also the next.
The vivacity of youth explains much in this narrative. Parkman was but twenty-six when he wrote The Conspiracy of Pontiac. Being young, he
was not afraid to be eloquent, to revel in descriptions of sunrise and sunset, tempests, the coming of spring, the brilliant hues of autumn foliage, the soft haze of Indian summer. His chapters are richly enamelled with these glowing pieces of rhetoric. He is no less brilliant in his martial scenes; the accounts of the Battle of Bloody Bridge and of Bouquet's fight in the forest are extraordinarily well done.
The historian is severe on writers who have idealized the Indian. Here is one of Parkman's own characterizations: The stern, unchanging 'features of his mind excite our admiration from 'their very immutability; and we look with deep 'interest on the fate of this irreclaimable son of 'the wilderness, the child who will not be weaned 'from the breast of his rugged mother. And our 'interest increases when we discern in the un'happy wanderer, mingled among his vices, the germs of heroic virtues, -a hand bountiful to bestow, as it is rapacious to seize, and, even in 'extremest famine, imparting its last morsel to a 'fellow sufferer; a heart which, strong in friend'ship as in hate, thinks it not too much to lay 'down life for its chosen comrade; a soul true 'to its own idea of honor, and burning with an unquenchable thirst for greatness and renown.' Neither poet nor novelist really needs to embroider such an account of the Red Man.
This successful historic monograph was followed
by an unsuccessful novel, written, it is thought, for recreation. Without being an autobiography, Vassall Morton abounds in autobiographical passages. Its failure was not of the kind that proves inability ever to master the art of fiction. The loss to American letters however would have been incalculable had Parkman's genius for historical narrative been sacrificed in any degree to novel writing. And this might have happened had Vassall Morton been a success.
FRANCE AND ENGLAND IN NORTH
THE history of France in North America abounds in everything appealing to the love of the heroic. Parkman writes in a spirit of frank and contagious admiration. Himself of Puritan blood and appreciative of the best in Puritan character, he makes the pale narratives of the contentious little English republics seem colorless indeed when laid beside his glowing pages. The great warriors, the brave and fanatical priests, the adventurous rangers, and the iron-hearted explorers of New France were born to be wondered at and extolled. Without assuming that these men had a monopoly of virtue, Parkman scatters praise with a free hand.
The germ of this massive and beautiful work is contained in the introductory chapters of Pontiac. Here is outlined the history of French exploration, religious propagandism, and military conquest or defeat up to the fall of Quebec.
The first three narratives (The Pioneers of France, The Jesuits, and La Salle) cover the period of inception. They abound in illustrations of heroism, self-sacrifice, and missionary fervor. The last three volumes (Count Frontenac, A Half-Century of Conflict, and Montcalm and Wolfe) describe the struggle of rival powers for supremacy. They are characterized mainly by illustrations of commercial greed, ecclesiastical jealousy, personal and political ambition. Midway in the series and related alike to what precedes and what follows is the fascinating volume, The Old Régime in Canada. The title of the initial volume, The Pioneers of France in the New World, exactly describes it. The 'Pioneers' are the Basque, the Norman, and the Breton sailors who, from an almost unrecorded past, crossed the sea yearly to fish on the banks of Newfoundland. They are Jacques Cartier of St. Malo, who first explored the St. Lawrence, Roberval, La Roche, and De Monts. Men of their time, they were both devout and unscrupulous. Among them and their followers were grim humorists. When, after the arrival of De Monts's company in Acadia, a priest and a Huguenot minister died at the same time, the crew buried them
in one grave 'to see if they would lie peaceably ' together.'
Chief among the great names of this period is that of Samuel Champlain, the life' of New France, who united in himself 'the crusader, the 'romance-loving explorer, the curious, knowledgeseeking traveller, the practical navigator.' Such a man has a breadth of vision and strength of purpose in comparison with which the sight of common men is blindness and their strength infirmity.
The second narrative in the series, The Jesuits in North America, is an amazing record of courage, fanaticism, indomitable will, perseverance, and martyrdom. The book contains the gist of the famous Jesuit Relations. A man may be forgiven for not wearying himself with the tediousness of those good fathers who were often as long-winded as they were brave. But he is inexcusable if he has not learned to admire them through Parkman's thrilling account of their physical sufferings and spiritual triumphs. Those giants of devotion, Brébeuf, Lalemant, Garnier, and Jogues, seem both human and superhuman as they move across the stage of history.
In La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West we have a story of zeal of another sort. La Salle is a pathetic figure. Yet to pity him were to offer insult. He stood apart from his fellows, misunderstood and maligned, but self-centred and self